In a style reminiscent of a Soviet-era collective accusation campaign, pro-Moscow forces in Kazakhstan have stepped up their propaganda work, mobilizing public organizations and parliament members against an alleged “resurgence of fascism.” On April 27 both chambers of Kazakh parliament approved a letter to be sent to the Estonian parliament expressing “regret” over the removal of the Bronze Soldier statue in downtown Tallinn (see EDM, May 1-3).
However, due to an apparent lack of adequate information about what was really going on in Estonia, most of the reaction lagged behind events, and the legislators’ appeal to their Estonian counterparts “to show wisdom and nobility and honor the memories of fallen soldiers” came too late. By the time of the votes in Astana, the Bronze Soldier had already been removed from downtown Tallinn.
Members of lower chamber of parliament (majilis) had to reword the letter to express “regret over the dismantling of the monument.” The leader of the communist faction in parliament, Yerasyl Abylkasymov went even further than the code of normal inter-parliamentary ethics allows and insisted on “bringing [the monument] back to its place.” But there were dissenting views among parliament members. Amangeldi Aitaly, known for his nationalistic views, said the arguments of Estonian side and “their inner sentiments” should also be taken into account, since Estonia, like other former Soviet republics, suffered greatly from Russian colonialism. He was backed by Tokhtar Aubakirov, who nevertheless noted that the Kazakh parliament should react to events in Estonia in some way, otherwise the indifferent attitude of Kazakhstan would encourage, as he put it, “pro-fascist forces” in that country (Novoye pokolenie, May 4).
It is unclear who initiated the letter to Estonian parliament. Government officials and the Kazakh Foreign Ministry did not show any obvious reaction to the removal of the war monument in Tallinn, calmly waiting for the politically charged row between Russia and Estonia to settle down. But in their letter, members of the Kazakh parliament casually noted that “war veterans and other citizens” in Kazakhstan had appealed to parliament, urging deputies to address the Estonian parliament on this “extremely important issue” (Panorama, May 4).
Kazakhstan has already had to deal with its own issues related to the Soviet legacy. Under pressure from Kazakh nationalists, Astana had to substitute public holidays associated with the Soviet Army with other events. Under the new regulations, Soviet Army Day — traditionally celebrated on February 23 — was replaced with the Day of Heroes, to be marked on May 7. However, many people who served in the Soviet Army still keep to the old tradition of celebrating on February 23. Immediately after the removal of the Bronze Soldier in Tallinn the Military Fraternity of Kazakhstan, an organization that unites Afghan war veterans, accused the Estonian government and parliament of a “hideous crime” committed against the dead soldiers of World War II. “What we were taught was the art of war, and not diplomacy,” said Military Fraternity leader Sergei Pashevich in a bellicose “message to the citizens of Estonia” (Megapolis, April 30).
The upsurge of great-power nostalgia among ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan comes as somewhat of an embarrassment. Astana regards the Baltic states as politically and economically important links in its developing relations with the West. Astana is likewise concerned about political stability in the heavily Russian-populated northern regions. Further aggravation of the prolonged disputes between Russia and Baltic countries threatens to destabilize the fragile situation in Kazakhstan and revive the militant Cossack movement.
The Kazakh government has recently taken a number of initiatives to foster regional cooperation with Russia. On May 3 a delegation of bankers and entrepreneurs from Kazakhstan visited Chechnya and was received in Grozny by Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov. The chief of the Grozny city administration, Muslim Khuchiev, said that Chechnya counts on close cooperation with Kazakhstan for investment and reconstruction projects. The delegation included a top representative of Nurbank, Nurali Aliev; the deputy chairman of the national Temir Zholy railway company Daniyar Khasenov; the chairman of the board of directors of Sat & Company, Kenes Rakishev; and the deputy chairman of Satoil, Hurulla Sattarov. In the light of recent clashes between ethnic Chechens and Kazakhs in Almaty region, the visit had clear political implications. Reportedly, the sides agreed to hold a “Days of Chechnya” festival in Kazakhstan (Interfax-Kazakhstan, May 3).
Kazakhstan is promoting economic and cultural ties with the Muslim parts of Russia to stem the threat of religious extremism at home. The Kazakh security services were alarmed by reports from Tyumen, Chelyabinsk, and Tobolsk regions of Russia, which are close to Kazakhstan’s border, about the resumption of activities by the Muslim religious organization Hizb-ut-Tahrir. Last month, the National Security Committee of Kazakhstan (KNB) reported the confiscation of more than 5,000 copies of Hizb-ut-Tahrir leaflets and religious literature. The KNB also announced that 141 former Hizb-ut-Tahrir members in Almaty and South Kazakhstan, Pavlodar, Zhambyl, Kyzylorda, and Qaraghandy regions had left the organization on their own will (Aikyn, May 5).
However, the worsening relations between Russia and Baltic states and Western Europe poses far more serious threat to Kazakhstan’s energy policy and regional security than Hizb-ut-Tahrir. Any political impasse in this direction and lack of will to find a compromise solution stirs up smoldering Russian nationalism in Kazakhstan.